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Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Black Sabbath, "Cross Purposes"

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I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

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Black Sabbath—"Cross Purposes"

I.R.S. Records, 1994

As the 1990s dawned, Black Sabbath was approaching something that resembled stability, after a decade of near-constant turmoil. Guitarist and sole original member Tony Iommi had successfully re-built a strong "new" Sabbath lineup with vocalist Tony Martin, drummer Cozy Powell and bassist Neil Murray. Albums like 1989's Headless Cross and 1990's Tyr may not have been setting the sales charts on fire, but they were laying a solid foundation for Sabbath to build upon. For the first time since the early '80s, Black Sabbath felt like a "band" again, rather than a glorified Iommi solo project.

...so naturally, something had to screw it up.

In 1992, Iommi rolled the dice and reunited Sabbath's Mob Rules lineup with vocalist Ronnie James Dio, bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler, and drummer Vinny Appice. The resulting Dehumanizer album wasn't quite on par with their prior work with Dio, but it raised the band's mainstream profile higher than it had been in some time. However, the reunion didn't last long—after a successful concert tour to support Dehumanizer, Dio refused to perform at a gig opening for his Sabbath predecessor, Ozzy Osbourne, which led to another acrimonious split.

Iommi quickly re-convened with Tony Martin to pick up where they'd left off, but they needed a new rhythm section, since Cozy Powell and Neil Murray had moved on to other projects. Luckily, "Geezer" Butler was still available after the Dehumanizer split and he agreed to play bass on the next studio album. Journeyman drummer Bobby Rondinelli (ex-Rainbow, Quiet Riot) was hired and the resulting album, entitled Cross Purposes, was released in January of 1994.

"I Witness"

The Songs

Cross Purposes kicks off with "I Witness," a thumping hard-rock number with plenty of Geezer's patented muscular bass work. Tony Martin gets to show his vocal versatility with the one two punch of the dark, moody "Cross of Thorns" and then the crunchy "Psychophobia," which appears to contain a lyrical shot at Ronnie Dio when Martin croons, "It's time to kiss the Rainbow good-bye."

"Virtual Death" is the type of slow-burning doomy rocker that Tony Iommi owns the patent on, and the crunchy "Immaculate Deception" leads into the bluesy, synth-drenched ballad "Dying For Love," which sounds like it could've come off of 1986's much-maligned Seventh Star album. Martin gives his best, most dramatic performance of the album on this track, and Iommi gets to show off his always-impressive solo chops. The rollicking "Back To Eden" leads into another ballad, "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle," which catches fire and adds a proper amount of heavy metal thunder around its halfway point.

"Cardinal Sin" is a typically sinister Sabbath style indictment of organized religion ("We point the finger, laugh in your face, 'cos you're no better than the rest of the human race") and the album ends with the thoroughly bad-ass "Evil Eye." Fun fact: an uncredited Eddie Van Halen helped Iommi write "Evil Eye," and legend has it that he may have actually played on the track as well, but due to behind-the-scenes contractual wrangling, that's never been definitively confirmed by either the Sabbath or VH camps.

Cross Purposes lineup, L-R: Tony Martin (vox), Bobby Rondinelli (drums), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass)

Cross Purposes lineup, L-R: Tony Martin (vox), Bobby Rondinelli (drums), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass)

The Reaction

The Dehumanizer-fueled bump in visibility didn't benefit Cross Purposes very much. As with the previous Tony Martin-fronted albums, Cross Purposes was all but ignored in the U.S., charting at a weak #122 (by comparison, Dehumanizer had made it to #44). However, it received a warmer welcome in Europe, where the album charted at #41 in Sabbath's native U.K., #32 in Germany, and #9 in Sweden.

The European tour for Cross Purposes was commemorated the following year with the release of Cross Purposes Live, a double-album concert recording taped at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. The album came packaged with a VHS video of the show, with a set list that included songs from all eras of the band. The album and video are both long out of print, but bootleg DVD copies are easy to find in collector's circles if you know where to look (cough cough).

"Cross Purposes Live" (full show, 1994)

Summing It Up

Cross Purposes may not be quite as strong as Headless Cross (still my favorite Martin era Sabbath album) or Tyr, but it doesn't mess the bed, either. Several of the tracks hold up extremely well (see: "Dying For Love," "I Witness," "Cross of Thorns" and "Evil Eye") and if they'd been sung by Ronnie James Dio, they would probably be considered classics today.

Tony Martin's involvement with Sabbath came to an end in 1995 with the release of Forbidden, his fifth and final album as vocalist. By all accounts, Forbidden was a rush job, thrown together for the purpose of fulfilling the band's contract with I.R.S. Records so Iommi could then move towards a planned reunion with Ozzy Osbourne. Forbidden is widely regarded as the band's worst album, and it was a sad end to what had been a particularly interesting period in the long history of Black Sabbath.

© 2018 Keith Abt